We don’t have weekends. That may sound strange but my husband works four days on, four days off, and I work in three of the days he is at home with the children. Instead of weekends we try to have one ‘family day’ each week. With April being slightly hectic it has been a while since we have spent much time altogether – so the May bank holiday was a long overdue family day.
We headed to St Andrews, around an hour’s drive away. I visited a couple of times in my student days (which feels like a lifetime ago) and we stopped briefly on route to the East Neuk a couple of years ago; every time I visit I think how much I love St Andrews and mentally vow to return soon. I really should plan a holiday to explore the town and surrounding area properly. I love wandering up and down the cobbled streets and lanes, tracing the footsteps of the past.
We immediately started looking for somewhere to eat when we arrived and stumbled upon a lovely restaurant called The Doll’s House in the centre of town. With a noisy baby strapped to me and holding onto a rather loud toddler, I tentatively popped my head in the door to check whether it was family-friendly. My initial apprehension upon noticing wine glasses on the tables and a couple enjoying a quiet coffee was instantly diminished by the waitress flourishing a kids menu and some crayons in our direction. The relief must have been visible on my face. We sat in one of the lovely tartan-clad booths; I loved the seating and decor. The menu was varied and we all thoroughly enjoyed our lunch: Flora had pasta in a tomato sauce, Isaac had a kids burger and chips (which was a generous portion!), James ordered a steak baguette and I had a chickpea, haloumi and bean burger. The food was delicious, the chips fluffy and home cooked, and my burger was full of flavour. I would love to go back without kids one day to sit outside with a glass of wine and watch the world go by.
After lunch we walked to St Andrews Cathedral and wandered through the grounds, admiring the ruins of medieval Scotland’s largest church. (If you like cathedrals make sure you visit Elgin Cathedral in Moray – it is another magnificent ruin). We left the grounds through a gate leading to views of the sea, the harbour and St Andrews Castle.
The sight of St Andrews Castle nestled into the very edge of the land took me by surprise – surely among the most scenic castle ruins in Scotland (does any other castle have its own little beach?). The castle becomes a seamless extension of the cliffs; an arm of land that grips the stone, a watch guard on the sea. Although the castle and its beach looked ever so inviting we had to add it to our ‘will visit next time’ list as the main reason we had travelled down to St Andrews was to visit the Botanic Garden.
After our post-lunch meanderings we hopped back in the car to head to the Botanic Garden. A friend had told me about it last year and when I looked it up online there were two things that made me want to visit even more – 1. that it has a tropical Butterfly House and 2. it is described as ‘one of Scotland’s hidden gems’. It was a short drive (3 or 4 minutes) from where we had parked in the centre of town and if you are in St Andrews I highly recommend a visit.
We paid to visit the Garden plus the Butterfly House (we only had to pay for Isaac to visit the butterflies as it is free admission for under 18s to the garden). Our time slot for the butterflies was half an hour away so we set off on a hedgehog trail (did you know that a baby hedgehog is called a hoglet?!) but were distracted by painted toadstools, pretty flowers and insects in trees. It is just a lovely place to walk, especially with children.
The Butterfly House was wonderful. James and I had been to a similar place in Dunedin in New Zealand, but I enjoyed this experience more as the glasshouse was smaller. It is obviously very hot in the glasshouse so there are hangers for jackets etc (we had to strip Flora down to her vest). Isaac opted to wear an umbrella hat (for those who may not be comfortable with butterflies landing on your head) and carried his leaflet on different butterflies to look out for (costing £1 at the main entrance gate). Both he and Flora were entranced by the butterflies flitting all around them, it was just so lovely to watch the expression on their faces. A butterfly landed on my finger as I was taking a photograph, much to Isaac’s delight. As you leave the main part of the glasshouse (checking in the mirror that there are no butterfly-hitch hikers on your back) there is a small educational section with microscopes and glass caterpillar ‘cages’ (where you can spot caterpillar eggs). Although you have an allocated slot for entry you can stay as long as you like with the butterflies.
With snack time upon us and a one year old who needed a nap, we didn’t have time to explore the gardens further but we’ll be back to follow their Gruffalo trail (as far as I’m aware there is a Gruffalo statue in the gardens at the moment and the trail coming soon). We had a quick bite to eat in the lovely cafe next to the main entrance (and bought a frog mask, as you do), before setting off home.
There is something so restorative about being outdoors, and an afternoon of sunshine, flowers and butterflies did wonders for this tired mother.